Rafa Benitez has opened up on the hardships of trying to organise pre-season for a Chinese Super League club in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic.

The Dalian Professional (formerly Dalian Yifang) manager has taken his squad to Marbella as they prepare for the start of the new CSL season.

But the outbreak of the deadly virus has caused officials to postpone the beginning of the league from February 22 to April, a proverbial spanner in the works for Benitez.

Rafa Benitez moved to China last year but the country is now in the midst of a crisis

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Rafa Benitez moved to China last year but the country is now in the midst of a crisis

The former Liverpool, Chelsea and Newcastle boss has taken his side to a plush golf resort in Andalucia, but the outbreak of COVID-19 has plunged the 59-year-old’s best-laid plans into crisis.

“I’ve never known or experienced anything like this in my career,” Benitez told The Athletic. “Normally you would know about when you start, you have the fixtures, you know when and where you’re playing, but here we’re waiting.

“Of course, you understand the logic of these decisions after the news about the virus, which changed everything.

“It’s a normal pre-season but in very strange circumstances.”

“People are suffering in China and our thoughts are with them,” he continued. “What we have to do is carry on doing our jobs and wait for updates from the government and the authorities.

“They [the players] want to see their families, to know they’re OK, so you have to keep talking and explaining to them that it’s a special situation.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 1,400 people have died from the illness with a further 60,000 infected since the first reported case in Wuhan on December 31.

The illness has since spread to the UK, with an individual who had contracted the disease attending a central London conference with more than 200 delegates on February 6.

Hong Kong has also reported cases of the deadly illness

Getty Images – Getty

Hong Kong has also reported cases of the deadly illness

But for Benitez, a stickler for control, everything is being monitored and logged – with every possible precaution being taken.

“We’re taking the players’ temperatures twice a day and are monitoring that, and there is antiseptic gel in all the areas where we are around,” Benitez says. “We’re keeping them within the hotel grounds and the training areas for two weeks, just to be sure that everything is looked after.

“It’s really a precaution — you can see that everybody is fine — but we are doing everything just in case.”

“There is table tennis, table football or cards, but they don’t play too much because they are quite tired,” Benitez added. “At the moment, we are staying calm and trying not to move around, but in a few days we will give them some time and they can go and do some shopping or something.”

The coronavirus epidemic has even affected the Premier League, as Manchester United’s January loan signing Odion Ighalo has not been allowed to train with his teammates at Carrington having arrived at the club from China on transfer deadline day.

He will, however, be involved in Monday’s trip to Chelsea and could make his debut for the Red Devils against Frank Lampard’s fourth placed side.


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